Hell's Kitchen review

Hell's Kitchen Review - Broadway musical

There was never much question about the Broadway premiere of the Alicia Keys musical "Hell's Kitchen." Using classics like "Girl on Fire," "Fallin'," and "No One," Keys spent a year creating a somewhat autobiographical jukebox of her songs.

The show's November Public Theater debut had herky-jerky pace, a few too many groan-inducing passages, and a second act that lost sight of whatever point the drama was trying to make, while playing to sold-out audiences. (Jesse Green noted in his New York Times review that the show descended "directly into the potholes it spent its first half so smartly avoiding" following the break.)

But now, "Hell's Kitchen" is playing at the Shubert Theater, just a few blocks from the action-packed setting of the program. I got nervous having seen the first version last fall. But "Hell's Kitchen" has made its mark on Broadway; the updated production is exhilarating from start to finish and readily distinguishes itself as one of the few must-sees in a packed season.

Not that Michael Greif's production, which includes a book by Kristoffer Diaz, needed a significant makeover. There have been careful adjustments and trimmings rather than significant alterations, and the creative staff and cast are virtually the same. The principal variations are more polished technical aspects and, above all, a small but significant shift in emphasis.

The story begins with a new line that makes that change clear right away: "Because I'm your mother, that's why." The Keys stand-in, 17-year-old Ali (the amazing Maleah Joi Moon), and her mother Jersey (Shoshana Bean, in great form), are clearly having a regular quarrel when we are thrust into the middle of it. Jersey has been parenting her daughter alone, with little assistance from Ali's father, Davis (Brandon Victor Dixon), and she is fiercely protective of her child. Living in the area of the show's title, just off Times Square, Jersey worries that her daughter may become victim of the various risks of the streets. It's the late 1990s, and Jersey is ready for Mayor Giuliani to "clean all of this right up."

Naturally, these parental worries come through as persistent pestering to Ali, who, following her mother's closing remarks, gives us a tour of her life at Manhattan Plaza, a Midtown haven that has been providing artists with government-subsidized housing since 1977 (and where Keys grew up). Ali scans her territory, the complex and its neighboring streets, with her closest friends Tiny (Vanessa Ferguson) and Jessica (Jackie Leon).
Last Update:June, 11th 2024

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